NEW YORK – After two periods of frustration and consternation, the Capitals finally got some leverage in the third period of Tuesday’s game against the Rangers.
Well, they almost got leverage. Henrik Lundqvist was there to stymie the furious Capitals comeback attempt, as the Rangers hung on – barely – for a 4-2 win over Washington to enter the Christmas break on a seven-game winning streak.
“Henrik stood tall for us,” said Derek Stepan, who had a late-game assist on Martin St. Louis’s power play goal that finally put the game out of reach. “I think AV said it the other day, ‘you don’t go anywhere without good goaltending,’ and our goaltender’s been phenomenal.”
“It was good for us, it got really intense,” Lundqvist said of Washington’s 21-shot barrage in the third period, which began with the Rangers ahead 2-0. “My guys stepped up big near the end. It’s a great feeling to go into this break after having been playing really well these last couple weeks. I think we all feel we’re getting closer to where we want to be.”
The Rangers (18-10-4) got off to a quick start in front of a raucous Madison Square Garden crowd thanks to Rick Nash, who scored two goals. Nash deflected Mats Zuccarello’s shot off his leg and past Braden Holtby (23 saves) just 3:32 into the game, giving the Rangers an early lead.
“We’ve done a god job playing with the lead,” said Martin St. Louis, who added a pair of power-play goals. “I think we’re tough to play when we have the lead. Everybody wants to play with the lead, but it’s what you do with it. We did a good job managing the game after that.”
After outshooting the Caps 18-11 through 40 minutes, Washington dumped nine shots on Henrik Lundqvist in the first 2:20 of the third, only to be held off the board by the star netminder.
“When they’re down two, they’re pressing, they’re moving around,” St. Louis said. “For us, you try to stay in our structure. They had good offensive zone time, they got a power pay, and they roll. We tried to bend, not break.”
“I didn’t think they’d have that much push in them [before the third period], because I wouldn’t say we controlled the game, but there was a good flow to the game for us,” said Lundqvist after earning his sixth-straight win, his longest winning streak since the 2011-12 season. “But they came out flying in the third and created a lot of chances right in front of the net. I had to work really hard there. It was a good test for me and for the team.”
“I thought the first two periods, we were playing a real strong game,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. “Got away from us a little bit in the third, some people might say we were trying to tire them out in our own end, but at the end of the day we found a way to get it done. That’s what this game is all about.”
The Rangers go into the league-mandated three-day Christmas break winners of seven in a row, their longest such streak since early in the 2011-12 season. It’s a welcome gift.
“This year, I just focused on my daughter,” Lundqvist said when asked how he planned to spend Christmas. “Get some good gifts for her, and some good food – that’s the only thing I’m looking forward to. It’s going to be good, I haven’t seen them much the last couple weeks, so I’ll spend some time with them, focus on something else than hockey for a couple days.”
“I think we have to enjoy it,” Nash said of the break. “We’ve worked hard these last seven games and there have been some tough ones on the road. But in the same sentence we have to be ready to come back on the 27th and earn our wins.”
“Our whole dressing room feels good about ourselves right now,” Vigneault said. “We’re going on Christmas break, we’ve put seven wins together. We’re going to enjoy the next three days and get right back at it on the 27th.”
INSIDE THE LOCKER ROOM: